The first thing that occurred to me is the fact that the Japanese immigrant family is based on traditional values, which presuppose that it is women’s role to take care of the house and children. The second impression is the idea of duty to other family members outside one’s nuclear family because of which the woman leaves her own children to take care of her ill sister. The two aspects are related to the idea that the woman has a burden on her because of the necessity to care about everyone in the family. The overall mood is gloomy because, in the course of the story, it becomes clear that the mother is not going to return.
There are several words and phrases at the beginning (candles, Christmas paper, frosted a vivid blue) which imply but not say directly that the story takes place in winter. Yet in the next paragraph, it is stated that the season is summer, so the author clearly aims to create a contrast between expectations and reality. There are words that also point to the time period such as yo-yo, and cultural background such as okazu.
The sentence rhythm is changeable and depends on the context. Wherever there are long and flowing sentences, the mood is generally positive, while short and choppy ones suggest frustration or insecurity like the following example: “Don’t you understand? It isn’t my choice. My sister is ill. Be reasonable; it is only for a month” (Yamauchi 122). There are such types of writing as narration, description, and dialogue in the passage. There is repetition within the passage of a Japanese saying which suggests that the father is angry. Anger is one of dominating moods within the story. The author prefers to imply moods rather than to show them directly, she does it by the means of dialogue and description.
The characters of the story vary in their personalities: the father seems to be severe; the mother is patient, but she wants to escape when her patience seems to reach its limit; Mary is too mature for her age; Benji is vulnerable. The narrator of the story is partially omniscient; he changes points of view from one character to another. However, it appears that this knowledge is only confined to characters of children; as for the parents, the narrator sees mostly actions rather than motivation. Benji is a key character whose perception of the events is accepted by the author. It is through him that the transformation of the family is watched in the first place.
The symbol of a handkerchief is the key one in the story, and the transformation of the child’s perception of it makes up the metaphoric canvas of the text. In fact, it symbolizes the bond between a child and a mother, which is blurred in the course of the events. While in the beginning, it smells of Mama’s soap, the smell changes into a sour one when she is away for several months. The smell evokes memory, which is emotionally colored, and this is a way to establish a connection between members of the family. The bad smell of the handkerchief implies that the bond between a child and a mother is breaking and can make become the cause of the break-up of the whole family. It is also a symbol of order which turns into chaos because of change. Benji is looking for stability through the handkerchief. Another symbol is that of a yo-yo, which was presented to Benji. As a ball or circle, it symbolizes harmony; when it falls, harmony is disturbed.